Researchers at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii have reported that the average concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has now reached its highest rate in 800,000 years! At 410 parts per million — a measure used to show how many a sample of a million there are — atmospheric carbon dioxide has reached a level that scientists fear will have potentially deadly consequences that, without drastic changes to our way of lives, will be nearly impossible to reverse.
We regularly hear about climate change leading to melting ice caps and contributing to sea level rise, but climate change will also contribute to tens of thousands of pollution-related deaths for those suffering from asthma, respiratory allergies, and airway diseases, as well as exacerbate the heat waves, storms, floods, and other global weather events we have come to experience over the last few years.
So, why the focus on carbon dioxide? Carbon dioxide is one of a number of greenhouse gases, gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. This produces the so-called greenhouse effect; imagine being in a conservatory without air conditioning on a blistering hot day with all the doors closed, and you can probably appreciate what this is doing to the Earth. And it goes beyond mere warming; drought will reduce our available drinking water and reduce the number of crops we can produce, which could lead to food scarcity. Species will be more at risk of extinction due to a lack of water and competition with other species for resources. The list of problems climate change could mean for us is endless.
We focus on carbon dioxide in particular over all the other greenhouse gases because it makes up 65 percent of all the greenhouse gases we find in our atmosphere. This is why observations such as those at Mauna Loa have gotten scientists so concerned.
Though the situation might seem dire, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Everybody can make a difference and we can combat some of the worst impacts of climate change IF we start now.
One large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is industrialized animal agriculture. The FAO estimates that the emissions from raising livestock is around 14.5 percent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions – that’s more than the entire transportation sector! Animal agriculture contributes not only carbon dioxide but methane and nitrous oxide emissions as well.
So how can we help? The answer seems simple. If we reduce our reliance on a meat-based diet, demand for meat products will fall. Less livestock means less greenhouse gas emissions and will include other benefits as well, such as a reduction in deforestation required for rearing cattle. A recent study showed that if Americans were to wean themselves off a meat-intensive diet, it would be the equivalent of taking around 660 million cars off the road! By simply leaving meat and dairy off the menu, you can halve your personal carbon footprint.
Climate change is going to impact every one of us. It is not a problem we can wait for others to solve or leave future generations to deal with.
So, what can we, as individuals do to help? If you are looking for ideas on how to do your bit, check out the Eat For The Planet book to learn more about animal agriculture and how our own food choices can be part of the solution to reducing greenhouse emissions.